Oct 01, 2013 7:45 PM GMT
On Sunday, SpaceX leapt toward its dream of affordable orbital flight through reusable launch vehicles. The company's Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast carrying the Canadian CASSIOPE scientific satellite, as well as a trio of small, university-built satellites. But the big success for Elon Musk's space venture came when some of the rockets succeeded in refiring their engines, a major step toward a reusable Falcon 9.
The rocket that launched yesterday was a significant upgrade from the company's previous-generation Falcon 9 rocket. The nine liquid-fuel Merlin 1D engines in the first stage provided 55 percent more thrust at sea level than their predecessor, the Merlin 1C, for a total of 1.3 million pounds of thrust at liftoff. At 224 feet, the rocket was taller than the previous Falcon 9 to accommodate more fuel. A new 17-foot-wide payload fairing was also a stretch from previous fairings, which had allowed only payloads that fit within the 12-foot-diameter of the rocket itself. Finally, the Falcon 9 v1.1 incorporated a simpler stage separation system.